Selfportrait as Charles Darwin, 2014, Oil on canvas, 60 x 47 cmFrom 12 June until 25 July 2014, Pace Gallery London is to present new works by Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie as part of an exhibition entitled “Golems”. The show features nine of the artist’s paintings, as well as a site-specific installation, which see Ghenie explore political, philosophical and scientific themes.

Adrian Ghenie was born in 1977 in Baia Mare (Romania) and graduated from the University of Art and Design in Cluj. He has participated in group exhibitions at several different institutions, including: Palazzo Grassi, at the François Pinault Foundation in Venice (2011), Tate Liverpool, (2008), the Prague Biennale (2007, 2009) and the Bucharest Biennale (2008).

12 June – 26 July 2014

6 Burlington Gardens, London, W1S 3ET

Pace London is delighted to present Golems, an exhibition of new works by the Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie from 12 June to 26 July 2014 at 6 Burlington Gardens. Adrian Ghenie is one of the most talented figurative painters working today.

Golems features nine oil on linen paintings, and a large site-specific installation that have occupied the artist’s practice between 2013 and 2014.

The exhibition illustrates Ghenie’s tendency to question the values of Old Europe, investigating the position of the intellectual within society’s conscience. Golems continues the artist’s exploration of political extremism, philosophical scepticism, and scientific research.

In Jewish culture, a golem is an anthropomorphic creature, endowed with mystical powers, often seeking to carry terrible deeds. The word was used to mean an amorphous, unformed terracotta or clay figure in religious psalms and medieval texts*. For Ghenie, the golem is both a metaphor for modern artificiality and vanity. In these new paintings and more specifically through the figure of the English naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin, Ghenie seeks to challenge the obvious, and thoroughly investigate the environment in which radical ideas emerge.

The Darwin Room, presented in a site-specific chamber within the gallery space, features meticulously sourced eighteenth and nineteenth century panelling, floor boards and furniture, juxtaposed with contemporary items notably a plastic chair, a recurrent signifier in many of Ghenie’s paintings. Illumination comes from the light of the internal ‘window,’ a symbolic gesture to the post-enlightenment thinking. The dark passage of the installation creates a boundary, separating the present day gallery environment from the sacred space in which the academic contemplation takes shape.

Using the attributed-to-Rembrandt’s painting Philosopher in Meditation, 1632 (Collection Le Louvre Museum, Paris), Ghenie demonstrates how the aesthetic form became the criteria for a European intellectual’s working environment; enabling a space for reflection and transgressive thinking.“Philosopher in Meditation is the archetype for the visual representation of the intellectual within Europe and is part of an iconographic tradition from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. It was initially inspired by the image of Saint Jerome translating the Bible in his cave. The powerful visual of the old man confined in a dark, small room, surrounded by the instruments of his research is partly responsible for today’s cliché of the ‘philosopher’. The Darwin Room is about this mental stereotype of the Old Europe”. Adrian Ghenie, May 2014.

The environment created by Ghenie in The Darwin Room is representative of the richness of scientific discovery made in astronomy, geology and anthropology during the Victorian age. Charles Darwin’s two seminal publications, On the Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871) marked a change in intellectual thinking of the time, whilst simultaneously causing endless controversy; not only resulting in the questioning of man’s significance but most importantly the omnipotence of God and the question of Creationism, that led to extreme political movements. Ghenie describes his intentions for the immersive experience as if it were “peeling the skin of that era and inserting it into the gallery in the shape of an iconic painting”.

Unlike his contemporaries, Darwin shied away from the public eye due to the ridicule and criticism his publications received. To this day, imagery depicting Darwin is extremely limited. The worrying absence of the human figure in the Darwin Room reinforces this idea.

In Self Portrait as Charles Darwin, and Charles Darwin at the Age of Seventy Five, Ghenie depicts the transformation and manipulation of an identity, which indirectly he connects to the misinterpretation of Darwin’s theories that took place in the twentieth-century with eugenics, degeneracy and other forms of social and political experimentation. Ghenie adopts the multiple depictions of Darwin to articulate ideas of his subject as a “before and after figure”, using the idea of his iconic identity to represent a world before Darwin, and another view of the world thereafter. 20th century axiomatic figures that changed the course of history are central in Ghenie’s oeuvre.

The artist’s art embraces the idea of fluidity within portraiture and allegory, sometimes taking a cinematographic approach; in the words of Christopher Lloyd, his nuanced depictions“can be read as a visual metaphor for the dilemmas of modern life”.

An exhibition catalogue is forthcoming with an essay by the writer and curator Jasper Sharp and art historian and author Christopher Lloyd.

*Idel, Moshe (1990). Golem: Jewish Magical and Mystical Traditions on the Artificial Anthropoid. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.

Image: Selfportrait as Charles Darwin, 2014, Oil on canvas, 60 x 47 cm